Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism

Restoring a basement floor

My house has an unfinished basement. I use it almost every day to walk out the back door to my driveway, and slightly less often for laundry, major projects at my fabulous new workbench that I built all by myself, and storage of basementy things. I keep the cats’ food and litter down there and they can access it with a pet door.

I really like having a basement, but it had some problems when I acquired the house. Some of them are low priority problems, like the plaster walls are getting a little crumbly and need some fresh paint in a few places, and the wiring in the ceiling down there is a little haphazard (but not dangerous). The appliances are old but do their jobs reasonably well.

The high priority problem has been the floor, which has 1950s-era checkerboard black and gray tile. Typically that tile had asbestos in the adhesive lining, and while mine has never been tested it was a good bet that they were asbestos-bearing. The tile wasn’t friable (breaking under the pressure I can exert with my fingers), but in some areas the tiles had broken off and been removed by the previous owner. It seemed likely that over time, more tiles would break, because the jagged edges were exposed and nothing was protecting them. The tiles were uneven and the floor contour was gently buckled in places, suggesting the tile was going to continue to fragment.

Asbestos removal is not something I particularly want to do in my home: disturbing the fibers is the best way to get them airborne and increase acute exposure, and the price of that kind of remediation effort would be extremely high. But I also wanted to slow the process of tile loss and prevent the backing from being exposed. In the meantime, I was nervous about ever sweeping or cleaning in the basement, even in areas where the tile appeared intact, because I didn’t know if there were fibers that had been mobilized in the past and that resided between the tiles. I really didn’t want to have to mop the floor every time the cats made a mess with their litter (wetting a surface is the best way to keep asbestos fibers out of the air, so wet cleaning was really my safest option).

After some helpful internet research about how to restore a floor with breaking asbestos-lined tile, I settled on the following approach:

  1. Remove all my stuff that could be reasonably removed from the floor. The work bench is too big and heavy to be removed, so I ended up moving it out from the wall slightly to access the wall edge, and doing the final step (painting) in two stages;
  2. Move cat accoutrements upstairs and lock cats out of the basement. They were not too bright about this and kept trying to get into the basement to see what was going on down there;
  3. Wet-clean the entire surface as well as I could, understanding that this is an unfinished basement, so it may never be perfect (and indeed, it was not);
  4. Apply a latex primer to the exposed concrete (or concrete + adhesive) surfaces and the edges of broken tiles;
  5. Use a premixed floor patch filler to fill minor holes and patch the smallest broken and/or exposed tile edges;
  6. Apply a self-leveling underlayment cement layer to all exposed concrete and broken surfaces to fill all gaps; ImageImageImageImage
  7. Paint the entire floor (tile and cement alike) with an epoxy masonry paint to seal up all potential dust from tile edges. The masonry paint was recommended by hardware store employees over standard basement floor paint because they predicted it was likely to bond better with the mixed underlying floor materials (the old vinyl tiles vs. new concrete underlayment). I cut in with a brush at the wall (thickly to fill all the grooves), and then I applied as a thick single coat to the rest of the floor with a semi-rough to rough roller on a pole for easy application from a standing position.

ImageImageImageThis turned out to be a pretty easy job that I could do over the course of just three or four days, including a weekend and a couple weeknights after work. In the end I did not scarify the tile surfaces to scratch them up to accept the paint better, because they were already pretty rough and I don’t want to damage asbestos-bearing tile any more than necessary. If that means the paint needs to be touched up sometimes, so be it–it’s easy to apply and I have plenty left over for that.

The texture of the masonry paint is softer and less glossy than a typical floor paint, but it seems strong. If the softer texture becomes a problem, I plan to topcoat it with polyurethane (and I still have a lot of polyurethane left from the hardwood floor restoration project, so I’ll just need a new applicator brush pad. And to remove the cats for another couple days). Overall, it is safer and also a big aesthetic improvement!

ETA: After a couple days of walking on it, I’ve decided in favor of the poly topcoat. I’ll update with the final result sometime next week…

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Author: Lumberjack Lynne

Geologist by trade, redesigning my little piece of property so it's greener, friendlier, and my very own.

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